1 Peter 3:21 "Corresponding to that, baptism now saves you—not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God for a good conscience—through the resurrection of Jesus Christ".
I will never forget as a younger man the fascination I had with stereo equipment - the bigger the speaker and the louder the stereo, the bigger the smile. Whenver it became possible to attach a good stereo to a big t.v screen, what was a smile became a shout of jubilation! Why? Because watching t.v went from a passive activity to a full-fledged experience and event. Supreme audio and video to this day still gives me goose bumps whenever we are getting ready to watch a movie and that bass-rumbling "THX" monicker pops up on the screen.
Whenever God ordained the proclamation of salvation in the Old Testament, He did so through the audio of the preaching of His word and the visual of feasts and ceremonial ordinances. It was the scriptures that converted the human soul (Psalm 19:7) and it was the feasts and ceremonies that pictured for the people God's saga of redemption.
When Jesus came and the New Testament era began following the Day of Pentecost, one of the Old Testament feasts - Passover, was succeeded by Jesus' institution of His Covenant meal, called by many Christian groups today "The Lord's Table". Likewise the Old Testament rite of circumcision which was a sign of the Abrahamic Covenant came to be replaced by the New Covenant rite of believer's baptism. The Gospel message in terms of its contents and method of converting people never changed. However the way God ordained the Gospel to be visualized did change. We looked yesterday at the Lord's table. Today we consider the second visualized portrayal of the Gospel - Baptism.
Principle motivations for baptism
1 Peter 3:21 represents the final mention of baptism in the New Testament. As one studies the nearly 100 passages on the subject of baptism, three motivations for getting baptized emerge:
1. Jesus mandated it, by modeling it at the beginning of his ministry (Mt 3:1-6; Mk 1:2-6; Lk 3:3-6; Jn 1:19-28) and commanding it (Matthew 28:18-20)
2. Its method is that of faith in Christ first, followed by baptism of the believer throughout the Gospels, Acts 2:38-42 and 16:31-33 and then the Epistles .
3. Its mode is meaningful, conveying the primary meaning of "immerse, dip". This pictures the saint publically proclaiming their identity in Christ's death, burial and resurrection, something of which they would had done in a prior commitment of faith and repentance.
So once we understand the mandate, the method of order and then the mode of baptism, we can grasp why the New Testament motivates believers to get baptized. With the primary motivations of baptism understood, we can now focus on the purposes.
Purposes of believer's baptism
The following purposes attached to believer's baptism enables us to see why God ordained it to visualized the Gospel and how along with its stereo partner, the Lord's supper, portrays the Gospel message.
1. Public Profession of Faith.
Jesus states in Luke 9:26 that if anyone is ashamed to mention Him before men, He will be ashamed to mention Him before His Father in Heaven. As we already saw in 1 Peter 3:21, baptism enables the believer to "pledge a good conscience" before God or "unto God".
2. Points to a prior response to Christ
Baptism is often like a mile marker in a Christian's life. Just like Jacob, who took a stone and anointed it with oil to remind him of God's first encounter with Him, baptism functions as a "stone of remembrance for the believer. (Genesis 28:18)
To illustrate further, God reveals that He gave Abraham the Covenant sign of circumcision to remind Abraham of the covenant he had been given by God. (Genesis 12:1-3;15; 17) Certainly passages such as Colossians 2:12-13 draw such a parallel between baptism functioning as such a sign to the believer, signifying the prior work God had done in circumcising their hearts, and transforming their lives by grace through faith alone. Just as circumcision was given to Abraham to point to a prior work done in His life, baptism has been given to the church to testify of the work of grace done and receive by faith prior to the baptism.
1 Corinthians 10:2-4 reads - "and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea; 3and all ate the same spiritual food; 4and all drank the same spiritual drink, for they were drinking from a spiritual rock which followed them; and the rock was Christ." Baptism in this text speaks of "in connection with or association with" a covenant head. For the Jews in the Old Testament, they were connected with the covenant head of the Old Covenant - Moses; whereas the New Testament Christian is connected by faith to their head - Christ. Sadly those Old Testament saints who crossed the Red Sea did not have saving faith accompanying journey. If they would had, they would had seen the one to whom they needed to be ultimately connected to. Even though Christ accompanied them by means of the rock, yet Christ was not truly "in them".
1 Corinthians 12:12 reads - "For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit." To be baptized here speaks of the Spirit's work of uniting the formerly lost sinner to Christ through saving faith in conversion. This work is the "Spirit baptism" is where the new converted Christian is tied into the wider body of truly converted saints. This is an invisible work of grace at salvation. Spirit baptism is made "visible, illustrated, pictured" by subsequent water baptism. The two are distinguished in terms of their sequence (Spirit baptism at salvation, water salvation following salvation), however their meaning is the same (Spirit baptism speaks of the reality of our salvation, water baptism pictures the reality). They are not two baptisms, but rather Spirit baptism and its corresponding sign water baptism are parts one and two of one baptism. (Ephesians 4:5)
To state plainly, so as to ensure that what I am saying is clear to the reader: The Spirit's baptism in saving faith is another term for the believer's salvation, whereas water baptism is the believer re-enacting for physical eyes the prior work done in the heart at saving faith.
Baptism's purposes include public profession of faith and pointing to a prior response of faith, and all that accompanies that saving event. Now notice the third purpose associated with baptism:
3. Baptism promotes the Gospel
Baptism goes hand and hand with the preaching of the gospel. The preaching of God's word presents the word which alone can convert and save sinners. (Romans 10:9-15) It is through the scriptures that the Holy Spirit penetrates the human heart, whereas in baptism we see pictured what takes place in the human heart. Baptism on its own does not produce saving faith, rather it pictures it. So baptism has to to with one's public profession of faith, pointing to a prior response to Jesus Christ and promoting the Gospel. Now notice the fourth purpose...
4. Baptism prioritizes illuminated obedience
When a Christian convert goes into those baptismal waters, they are picturing a fully obedient Christian. In the presence of the reading of or preaching of the scriptures, the Holy Spirit can take such a picture and press it before the child of God. The picture points to the reality, the master, to whom all Christians owe their allegiance. We are reminded too that love for Christ is chiefly expressed by obedience to Christ. (John 14:15,21,23). This is why Christ has ordained the church to be the administrator of believer's baptism, since loving submission to Christ the Bridegroom demonstrates most effectively a people transformed by the Gospel of Jesus Christ. (Ephesians 5:25-26; 1 Peter 1:15-16)
When we are walking in the known will of God, we are walking as it were under an open heaven of clarity. When Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist, He was publically declaring His willingness to obey the Father. The scripture then says the Spirit of God came upon Christ and lighted upon Him. (Matthew 3:16-17) Baptism is the Christian's first major step of obedience. The Holy Spirit comes to indwell the Christian at saving faith. (1 Corinthians 3:16) We know also too that in obedience there is given extra light and illumination. (1 John 1:5-7) Hence when it comes to baptism, nothing resides within the waters of saving quality. When a new convert enters those baptismal waters and comes out, they have set the tone for their Christian walk of getting in order with God. Being that obedience and Divine illumination from the already indwelling Holy Spirit go hand-in-hand, we can say that Baptism reminds us of illuminating obedience.
We have focused these past two posts on the Gospel in stereo. We observed both the Lord's Supper and Baptism. With baptism we considered the motivations for doing it and the purposes communicated by it. Both of these ordinances are ordained by Christ to communicate the Gospel visually, bringing into the visible realm what otherwise invisibile realities that accompany genuine salvation and the Christian life.